The Wolf of Wall Street

Martin Scorsese’s study of Wall Street excess is beautifully made but madly over the top

The Wolf of Wall Street - trailer

Film Title: The Wolf of Wall Street

Director: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 180 min

Thu, Jan 23, 2014, 16:11


Much of the chatter surrounding Martin Scorsese’s latest drunken whale of a movie has focused on the film-maker’s attitude towards his subject’s rampaging immorality.

Based on a memoir of the same name, The Wolf of Wall Street tells the story of a notoriously slippery stockbroker named Jordan Belfort. Played by Leonardo DiCaprio with a foot crammed permanently to the metal, Belfort is seen making his way in a respected Wall Street firm, failing during the 1987 crash and then crawling back to success via dubious deals in cheap stocks.

The film presumes that its audience has no interest in (or is unable to comprehend) the intricacies of Belfort’s financial crimes. Scorsese and his team are far more concerned with showing us how the cash was spent.

Here’s Jordan having a candle rammed up his bottom by an expensive prostitute. Here he is flinging dwarfs at a massive dartboard. Now he’s swallowing Quaaludes by the ladle-full. Oh, look. He’s just punched his wife in the stomach. How charming.

One can’t help but think the film’s early enemies were asking the wrong question. Scorsese and DiCaprio have argued that no approval of Belfort’s activities is implied. This is true enough. But both men are certainly experienced enough to understand cinema’s ability to allow decent people a little recreational paddling in vicarious immorality. Scorsese’s Goodfellas – whose grammar and rhythms Wolf apes – would not be nearly so entertaining if it concerned dishonest ice cream salesmen.

Shot by Mexican wizard Rodrigo Prieto in a dazzling array of sun-blasted colours, featuring the expected blasts of popular songs, The Wolf of Wall Street unquestionably wallows in those scenes of drug taking, sexual impropriety and conspicuous spending (though not, to be fair, in Belfort’s violence towards women).

DiCaprio has, rather bizarrely, compared this hugely expensive, enormously long film to “punk rock”. It’s hard to think of a picture less suggestive of that homemade rough-edged music. If we must have an analogy from popular music, The Wolf of Wall Street is closer to the shagging’n’spending school of hip-hop. Fair enough. We can dip into those worlds and then, untainted, return to our morally upright, economically budgeted lives.

The problem is not to do with the fact that the film features scenes of naked excess. The problem is that it features little else. There are some great, darkly comic set-pieces in The Wolf of Wall Street. But, with few moments of calm to set them in relief, they struggle to capture exhausted, pummelled attention. By the time we get to the excellent episode in which, laid low by ancient Quaaludes, Belfort is forced to crawl from country club to sports car, only the sturdiest constitutions will have any more capacity for attenuated chemical abuse.

Scorsese and Terence Winter, his screenwriter, are to be applauded for not giving into sentiment and imposing any sort of redemption. The total absence of nuance in Belfort’s personality is, however, deadening. He begins as an acquisitive monster, becomes a little more acquisitive and a little more monstrous, and then continues in that state until the film eventually allows us to leave. There’s no drama. There’s no internal conflict.

At times, the film seems almost Hobbitian in its inability to finish a scene that is already well past its natural lifespan. It’s not often one encounters a film that could, quite comfortably, lose an entire hour. But, clocking in at 180 minutes, Wolf is just that picture. It hardly needs to be said that it’s brilliantly edited and superbly acted – Jonah Hill is hilarious as Belfort’s slippery lieutenant – but the endless repetition would wear down even the most fervent Philip Glass fan.

“That’s the whole point!” I hear you say. The Wolf of Wall Street gets across the boredom of hedonism and the nauseating nature of unrestrained immorality.

What’s that you’re saying, trench-bound soldier? The noise and the explosions are making you a little nervous? That’s the whole point! What are you complaining about?